Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–50)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The later stages of World War II, and the period after the end of that war, saw the flight and forced migration of millions of German nationals (Reichsdeutsche) and ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) from various European states and territories, mostly into the areas which would become post-war Germany and post-war Austria. These areas included pre-war German provinces which were transferred to Poland and the Soviet Union after the war, as well as areas which Nazi Germany had annexed or occupied in pre-war Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, northern Yugoslavia and other states of Central and Eastern Europe.

The movement of Germans involved a total of at least 12 million people, with some sources putting the figure at 14 million, and was the largest movement or transfer of any single ethnic population in modern history. The largest numbers came from the former eastern territories of Germany acquired by Poland and the Soviet Union (about 7 million) and from Czechoslovakia (about 3 million). It was also the largest among all the post-war expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe, which displaced more than twenty million people in total. The events have been variously described as population transfer, ethnic cleansing or democide.

Many deaths were attributable to the flight and expulsions, with estimates ranging from 500,000 to 2.0 million, where the higher figures include deaths from famine and disease as well as from violent acts. Many German civilians were also sent to internment and labor camps.

The policy was part of the geopolitical and ethnic reconfiguration of postwar Europe, and in part retribution for Nazi Germany's initiation of the war and subsequent atrocities and ethnic cleansings in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The displacements occurred in three somewhat overlapping phases, the first of which was the spontaneous flight and evacuation of Germans in the face of the advancing Red Army from mid-1944 to 1945, the second a disorganized expulsion of Germans immediately following the German defeat, and the third a more organized expulsion following the Potsdam Agreement, which redrew national borders and approved "orderly" and "humane" expulsions of Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The major expulsions were complete by 1950, when the total number of ethnic Germans still living in Eastern Europe was approximately 2.6 million, about 12% of the pre-war total.

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